Contact: Casey Richards
Most people see June as a time of weddings and graduations, but to those of us at the Blue Mountain Community Foundation it is scholarship season.
Like you, I've been to more than a few graduations in the past few weeks. Each one is inspirational. They take me back to Portland's Memorial Coliseum in June 1970—walking across the stage along with 799 of my Grant High classmates.
Needless to say, the ceremony skipped the scholarship announcements. So I appreciate how meaningful high school graduations are in Blue Mountain region.
Scholarships are personal—very personal. Each scholarship is a combination of everyone involved—the donors who created it, the volunteers who review applications and make the decision, the students and their families. Giving and receiving a scholarship creates a strong connection.
Blue Mountain Community Foundation is but one source of scholarships in our area.
We have 50 scholarship funds, and awarded more than $336,000 this year. We received 100 more applications in 2015 than we did in 2014. Despite this, we were able to award scholarships to over half of the students who applied.
There's a myth that only the best students academically or the students with the most financial need receive scholarships, when in fact, a wide range of young people received them.
The fact that 55.6 percent of all applicants to the Community Foundation received a scholarship is good news for our community.
But we see that percentage as just a start. As a community, we should not be satisfied until each student has a scholarship. We need to invest in our young people's college educations.
Growing up, I heard many stories from my dad about working on the farm in North Dakota and saving for college. He was able to earn enough money to earn a B.S. and a M.A. in chemistry back in the 1920s.
My own method of paying for college starts with potato chips. I still like potato chips (gee I wish I didn't!) despite spending four college summers working the graveyard shift at the Blue Bell Potato Chip Company in Portland. But I was lucky to have that job. I could earn one-fourth of a year's tuition, room and board at Pacific Lutheran University by the end of the summer.
Those days are unfortunately over.
It is very difficult to earn enough money for college solely by working summers. College graduates today have way too much debt—most are forced to borrow heavily for college, the cost of which has risen faster than the cost of living. Imagine starting life with a huge mortgage but without a house to live in. And you still need a roof over your head! That is student debt.
Our community's investments in scholarships have paid off in a big way. Speaking from the Community Foundation's experience, here are two outstanding examples of local students who received Foundation scholarships who returned to the community.
What would our community be like without Tony Billingsley, M.D., and Bertha Poirier Clayton, J.D.?
Tony is in charge of Providence St. Mary’s emergency room, and a graduate of Walla Walla High School, Class of 1993.
Bertha, a personal injury attorney at Hess Law Firm, is a graduate of Waitsburg High School, Class of 2004.
Tony (who is a trustee on the BMCF Board) said he relied heavily on scholarships in his undergraduate years at Whitworth. He received two major scholarships for all four years at college.
Since there are few scholarships for medical school, that was a different story. He was able to complete school, however, and after following medicine's long educational path, was able to return to Walla Walla with his family.
If you find yourself in the ER, you will be very happy to have Tony looking after you.
Bertha's journey through college and law school reflects her determination, planning and sharp analytical abilities.
She took advantage of WWCC's Running Start program while in high school. Because of this, she was able to finish college at Washington State University in three years, and says she was fortunate to receive scholarships including several from BMCF.
She also received a scholarship from BMCF for law school (the Community Foundation has one scholarship for graduate school at this time). Bertha says she feels strongly about "paying it forward" by helping raise funds for scholarships for today's students.
It is said there is such a thing as "good debt," that is, debt incurred to invest in oneself such as an education.
But can't we help our young people get ahead with as little debt as possible? By doing so, we all benefit—the student, the students' families, our community when graduates return, and even our local colleges as many local graduates attend Whitman, WWCC or Walla Walla University, among others.
Our community is big enough, and rich enough, to ensure that each student has a scholarship.
Next June, you can help spread joy all around by giving all of our trade school and college-bound students a scholarship. Please consider establishing a scholarship to support our local students.
Kari Issacson is the executive director of the Blue Mountain Community Foundation. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509.529.4371. Issacson wants to talk about how you can make a difference in the lives of our local youths.